For Dick Clark, 1960 was a pivotal year.
As 1959 wound down and the Congressional hearings on payola in the music business were heating up, Clark stayed one step ahead of the feds by divesting himself of virtually all of his music business holdings. It was a monumental gamble by a rising 30-year-old television star whose early fortune was built on his musical connections.
But Clark had nothing to fear.
A poll by Teen magazine early in 1960 found that Clark trailed just President Dwight D. Eisenhower as the person that young people most admired and respected. Elvis Presley finished a distant eighth in the poll, sharing that spot with Vice President Richard Nixon. Sen. John F. Kennedy, who would sweep to election in the presidential race later that year, was even further back, in 12th.
Still, Upper Darby High School in Delaware County, Pa., which had honored Clark the previous two years for his work among teenagers, cancelled plans for a third plaque presentation on the eve of Clark's Congressional appearance in late April.
In a Newsweek story on May 2, 1960, a teen dancer from American Bandstand was quoted as saying, "Even if I found out that Dick Clark took payola, it wouldn't make any difference. He makes us teenagers happy."
Not only was Clark cleared of any payola sins, he apparently innoculated himself from further charges with his appearance before Congress.
Just three weeks later, Philadelphia Collections Commissioner Morton E. Rotman subpoenaed business records from four Philadelphia music publishing and record companies while searching for evidence of payola dating back to 1956. In June 1960, District Attorney Victor H. Blanc reopened an investigation into payola that included 15 popular radio disc jockeys from Philadelphia, including Ed Hurst, Joe Grady, Hy Lit, Tony Mammarella, Sid Marks, Joe Niagara, Lloyd Fatman, Mitchell Thomas, Kae Williams and Georgie Woods.
Blanc's staff made it clear that not only was Dick Clark not under investigations but that he had "been given a clean bill of health by the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission," despite the fact that Clark's soapbox on American Bandstand was likely far more influential than the combined influence of those who were being investigated.
American Bandstand was drawing an average daily audience of 8 million viewers in the summer of 1960, many of them teens who were as interested in the ever-changing roster of teen dancers as they were in the music itself.
Clark, meanwhile, was waiting for completion of a project that would launch the next phase of his show's evolution. In the Reco-Art studios some three miles down Market Street from the WFIL-TV studios, arranger Dave Appell was putting the vocal finishes on a note-for-note copy of Hank Ballard's R&B hit, The Twist, for Cameo Records, which was not one of the businesses Clark severed ties with in his very public divestment in November 1959.
To do the lead vocal, Cameo had employed the same teenage singer Clark's wife, Bobbie, had hired to record a Christmas record a few months earlier. Ernest Evans was a transplanted South Carolinian attending South Philadelphia High School when Bobbie Clark, who thought he resembled a young Fats Domino, bestowed upon him the stage name of Chubby Checker.
By the time the young singing sensation reached his 19th birthday, his version of The Twist had sold a million copies and the course was set for a dizzying stream of new dances that would spread like wildfire across gyms and dance floors inhabited by teens captivated by the beats propagated by Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
Do you have any stories about Bandstand, Dick Clark or growing up in the Philadelphia area during the show's run at WFIL-TV? Please share them in the comments section or e-mail them to me.